Saturday, July 26, 2014

I'm About A PINT Low....

If you spot someone wearing this stretchy "red badge of courage," they probably just donated blood.

I had not seen this before but, then, I had not been to the Red Cross Blood Donor center before.

According to statistics, most people just never think about it.

An article in the paper the other day reminded me - and hopefully everyone else - that donations had dropped to an all time low.
The long weekend for the 4th of July was mentioned as a possible cause as many donors were away.

The article had caught my eye.

Only a few days before, I was talking with my doctor's office and mentioned I had no idea what my blood type was.

"On your next blood test, they can type it for you. There will be an additional cost, " the nurse mentioned.

Hmm. I could do a good thing and receive a bonus of learning a basic fact about my body and it's precious fluid.

The paperwork and a check of my vitals (pulse, blood pressure and temperature) at the West Ashley ARC Donor Center took about 15-20 minutes.

Sitting back in the comfortable lounge, the actual collecting of a pint of my blood took only 6 minutes.

I didn't even open the red cover paperback I had brought.

And, it was painless. These ladies are VERY good at what they do!

"Is 6 minutes a new record?" I asked. I was told there have been 3 minute donations. Yikes.

That person could just double park out front in Harrell Square on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard.

Pop In, donate a pint and pop out.

It was suggested I go to the refreshment table, get rehydrated and eat a small snack.

If you're going to feel woozy or faint, that would be a good place to be.

I felt fine and talked with two donors who were eating popcorn and drinking sodas.

They each had donated many, many times and welcomed me into the club.

We exchanged names and the lady asked if I by any chance knew a Dennis Boyd.
I smiled and said I was at my brothers house the night before with his visiting son and family and three of his wife's sisters.

I learned we had mutual friends back in Bishop England high days.

When the school was still downtown on Calhoun Street.

I've been dieting so I chose just one small packet of chocolate chip cookies to go along with my bottled water.

As I said, now I was "down a pint" and water intake is encouraged.

Hot, humid July days in Charleston means drinking lots of water is good.

According to Red Cross documents, I could give another donation in about two months.

In 56 days to be precise.

But, I don't think I'll just double park and run inside.

Want to stick around for some delicious cookies. Even a diet allows for this.

(Click on the photos for more details.)

Also be sure to check the link to the Red Cross.

They still need donors.

And people still will need blood.

Maybe even someone you know.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014 more CABLE television for me.

I'm in the midst of "cutting the cord." 

That's what people call it when you cancel your cable television service. 

Instead, now I simply plug in my $39.95 Leaf 30  indoor HDTV antenna.antenna.

Not $39.95 per month.

$39.95 just one time.

To receive all 3 major networks, PBS and half a dozen more local stations.

I was amazed at the clarity and the vivid colors.

And I have a BIG (60 inch) tv screen to fill and anything less than sharp and crisp would not slip by.

For about a decade and a half - or longer - I have paid one of two cable companies MY dollars to receive television programming. 

I am old enough to remember the 1950s when we got our very first black & white television set.

It was a CBS brand in a heavy steel cabinet. And, the programs appeared like magic on the screen in our living room.

Well, Charleston had only three stations, for only several hours a day. Recall test patterns?

They all signed off at midnight.

And each played the National Anthem.

Then the screen became just gray and white static, with a sizzling sound

But the programs were for free.

You bought the set and added rabbit ears.

Zero dollars for "programming."

Recently it reached a point where I realized I had access to more than 700 channels. Yikes.

About a year ago, I dropped Comcast after almost 15 years.

The cost just kept going up and up and up and its customer service was embarrassingly bad.

I think they came up with a new company name because Comcast was being called some pretty negative things.

This move cut my monthly bill from a high of $135 to "only" $115 a month for the privilege of watching only a few sports, some Comedy Channel shows and the evening news.

I also now had started streaming Netflix movies using my ROKU device and my Chromecast sent tv images off my computer screen to my large screen tv.

I could not tell you about any of the network shows because I didn't watch that much tv. But, the bill came through each month loud and clear and I paid it.

Of course, that monthly bill included internet access. 

Well, you HAVE to be up-to-date on that for your computer and email but 700+ television channels choices? Right now, being online is a necessary evil that only the cable companies can provide.

BUT, more companies  such as Apple and Amazon have come out with their own ROKU-type devices for inexpensive alternative programming and, in Kansas City, Google Fiber came up with a high speed internet service using buried fiber optics. At 100x the normal download speed with no cable company involved at all.

Google has already added that fiber optic service in Provo, Utah; Austin, Texas and is looking at Charlotte, N.C. and Atlanta. 

Once my plug-in antenna was working, I called my cable company and cancelled my tv programming but - for the moment - kept the 12/15 mbps speed online link. It's a costly $56 per month (plus taxes and fees).

Then I called Xfinity and signed up for its online 25 mbps download speed service for an introductory $29.96 a month for 12 months. Once that starts, I'll switch over, drop Wow! and hope that in a year, the online service has changed drastically.

Hmm. Charleston is the number one U.S. destination for tourism. And we have a Google Data Center in Berkeley County.

Mayor Riley, maybe Google Wi-Fi and internet service for here could be the icing on your Mayoral cake?

(All the art came from online so probably not going to change much if you do click.)

But DO check the links for all these new marvels.

I'm in awe.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

This is NOT just pocket change....

There's a sign of change going on this weekend.

And, a change of signs.

As of now, obviously, there is no "i" in First.

First Federal is changing its name to something, something Bank.

 When I came back to Charleston and started doing business with them in 1993, I believe they were still a Savings & Loan. Or a Trust.

Would have to be a much bigger sign to get all THAT up there.

The guys on the ladders gave me and my camera a glance but got back to work, taking down the old name.

One letter at a time.

An image of  Vanna White went through my mind as I watched them tugging and prying to remove each letter.

Oh, that's right, she ADDS letters to the puzzle on "The Wheel."

This was late on a Friday and I saw that the large sign standing out front was now flat on the ground.

These fellows had been busy.

I remember a funny Steve Allen phone call he made while hosting the very new Tonight Show.

He told "Big A Cleaners" that he had a large cloth letter, an A,  that was very dirty.

Well, maybe you had to be there in my living room, but I remember laughing hard.

I posted a blog a while back about the time I met Mr. Allen - in his home - where he recorded a short script I had written.

That is, after he expertly edited and shortened it. "Too many words," he advised me.

Yeah, I get that a lot.

But, back to this sign deal.

South State Bank is the new name and here's one of the signs that are going up all over town this weekend.

And all over the region.

It's the result of a major merger and affects banks large and small in cities and towns throughout three states.

Even in Vanna's hometown of Myrtle Beach.

I was driving to the Tanger Outlet Stores today and saw - or rather did NOT see - the sign in front of my bank.

(Click on the photos for more details)

Years ago I had seen a house trailer being used as a temporary bank, next to where the real brick & mortar one was being built.

Wasn't too comfortable with the idea of depositing my money in a bank that was on wheels.

F rst Federal, er, I mean, South State is making sure all its depositors are well informed about the changes.

That's a good sign.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

NYC ...Soaring over the East River!

 So, you've seen the view from the top of the Empire State building.

Or been on the 70th floor at "Top Of The Rock."

Guess you've seen it all from above in New York City.

Hey, not so fast. There's the RIAT.

That's the Roosevelt Island Aerial Tram.

It wil whisk you up, up and away over and above the famed East River.

I think of trams like this at ski resorts but it's June in The City and we tourists are all about getting lots of views.

The Tramway Plaza is at East 60th and the foot of the Queensborough Bridge.

Lots of small children in the "car" when I soared up on cables.

We all were heading past the Queensborough which, I noticed, has two layers of auto traffic.

Hey, when you build a bridge, get the most out of it that you can.

When I walked the Brooklyn Bridge, I was surprised to see it had a wooden pedestrian deck.

Actually, I had seen the green gecko in the GEICO television insurance ads, walking along, talking while dodging bikers and walkers.

It was a quiet day on the East River.

Saw a tour boat come under the bridge while we looked down as we sailed overhead.

Bet the tourists craned their necks and took pictures of us. I would have.

Didn't realize until later that the glass all around us was great for viewing but also reflected back and I had to be careful which photo I selected to visually share the adventure.

You can get to Roosevelt Island by bus and, I suppose, by subway. But why would you?

Walked around, stopped at the Visitors Center and a nice New Yorker told us where to get a cup of coffee and a sandwich.

Both were good and the place was not crowded at all.

The ride back was also delightful.

Here's a link to a video a person put together to share the sights he or she saw. Did a lot of additional shooting as "cut-ins" showing different points of view. Very well done.

Be sure to make a note to take the tram during your next visit to NYC. It's a nice offbeat trip.

Another "different" experience is around the corner from the Ed Sullivan Theater where I saw the Late Show with David Letterman.

"Rupert G." was behind the counter at his  Hello Deli that Dave likes to have pop up on his show.

He was kind enough to pose for this picture so I felt obligated to buy something.

He is bagging the dark blue t-shirt I bought. It's like the one displayed on the wall.

I did not realize until now his name is Rupert Jee.

(Click on the photos for more details.)

Thanks for tagging along today.

Well, J-E-E is pronounced Gee.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

A Somber, Solemn Morning in New York City...

 Stayed at a nice Marriott in downtown New York.

Not too far from a subway stop.

Had just taken Amtrak down from Boston and connected at Penn Station with the right line to get over to the Financial District.

Did not realize the new nearly-completed One World Trade Center was almost next door.

In the morning, I walked over to revisit "Ground Zero."

The footprints for the twin towers now were reflecting pools with waterfall fountains surrounded by the engraved names of the almost 3,000 people who perished on 9-11.

A respectful single white rose had been tucked next to a person's name.

It was early and overcast.

Fitting for such a somberly impressive scene.

Only a few people at this hour. Very little conversation. No loud voices. No laughter.

It was quiet and serene.

All around this peaceful oasis the buildings stood tall, disappearing in the morning mist.

I am glad I came here.

A few of us with cameras were trying to capture the feeling, the look, of this beautiful, but sad, reminder of a horrible time.

Because of the cloudy conditions - and intermittent rain - I had cancelled my plan to go up to Top Of The Rock at Rockefeller Center.

An Observation Deck on a day with clouds and a low ceiling was not a great idea.

Instead, I was thinking, maybe this would be a good day to walk the Brooklyn Bridge.

And have lunch somewhere in Chelsea by the West Side's elevated city park & garden called High Line.

But, first, pause, and take in the good intentions and hard work that had turned a scene of carnage into a soothing vista.

The soaring 1,776 feet tall new single memorial tower can be seen from many vantage points all around the area.

Later, from the midway point on the Brooklyn Bridge, I saw it and snapped a photo.

As well as the Statue of Liberty (miles away in the harbor) and the skyline centered around the iconic Empire State building.

New York is a great place for gawking, rubber-necking and seeing the sights.

"We're not in Kansas anymore," said Dorothy to her dog Toto as she toured Oz.

I have lived in Kansas - and its bordering state Missouri - so I can personally verify that Ms. Dorothy was very correct.
Later in the day, the sky cleared a bit and, as I wandered around Washington Square Park, I could see One WTC towering in the distance.

In the park itself was the beautiful Soldiers' and Sailors' Arch and the Bailey Fountain.

I didn't see a sign saying to keep out of the fountain so people ventured in. And got wet.

I dodged two small children with massive water guns who were running through the crowd, squirting each other, as their mom tried to calm things down.

Our  two fountains at Waterfront Park draw crowds of young "bathers," and I'm not sure if these were locals or out-of-towners.

Guess it doesn't matter. People were having a good time in a pretty, but small,  "pocket park."

It was very easy to tell who got wet.

I made sure that before I left New York, I went to the huge, full square block, Mecca for serious photographers...B & H.

My credit cards were itching to leap from my wallet but I kept my head as I perused the Canon Camera section on the 2nd floor.

Of course there was a Nikon area as well as other zones dedicated to particular popular brand of cameras and accessories.

Hey, that large bag contains only two small memory cards.
The young saleslady told me they were the last two 2GB cards in stock.

I can believe it. Cards now have a capacity starting at 4GB or 8GB and go up to 32GB...and even larger.

She suggested I buy a 4GB card for $5 instead of buying two smaller ones at $5 each.

She finally smiled and probably thought "IS the customer always right?"

Here are two of  my favorite pictures taken at High Line, the park-in-the-sky built on the former setting for an elevated train.

Trees, flowers and bushes in the midst of a huge city with traffic flowing all around.

And beneath the park.

More condos are rising on all sides, offering the "If you lived here, you'd be home now" concept.

I mean MANY, MANY condos are springing up ...well, like weeds...since the urban greenspace opened about two years ago.

Latecomers will pay the price but I'm sure it's worth it to them.

A sense of country in the city.

(Click on the photos for more details.)

The day started with a reverent visit to a site that will forever live in American history.

It ended with stops and tours to several green and vibrant living parks scattered around a remarkable city.

With some great pizza.

Thanks for joining me for a day of vacation.

I wonder if people still buy - and mail - picture postcards?

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Saturday, July 05, 2014

"Trim a little on the sides, please..."

Yes, the bushes I planted years ago seem to have gotten out of hand.

They had grown and now were tangled into the oak tree limbs.

The fence was no longer visible.  It was time to have A-Z Tree Service come by my house again.

Sonny Nguyen brought his small army of trained trimmers.

Just like 4 years ago when they cut back an overactive cedar tree - and three oaks - they were in and out in about an hour and a half.

What a team. How synchronized they are.
Again, there was a mighty chipper parked on the street, next to the fence.

The men fed a steady stream of branches and limbs into its maw.

This time we needed a cherry-picker to make sure cut tree pieces did not crash down on my new car port.

"You didn't have that the last time we were here," Sonny said.

His estimate included a 'picker and the experience trimmer guy in the bucket with his chainsaw.

I did move my car out of the way just in case.

Heavy branches were not cut until he had them tied to a strong rope he had strung from above.

He knew the leverage it would take to swing it away from the shiny steel roof of my car cover.

These oak branches had been growing closer and closer to the side of the house.

Even a mild breeze could make them move and I did not want anything rubbing the house or the roof.

The tree will bloom out again but a roof or siding would cost quite a bit to replace.

And matching the repairs to blend in would be challenging.

Looks like I have years of breathing room now, all around the house.
While all those limbs were being severed and carefully lowered to the ground, others were struggling with the overgrown bushes along the fence line on the other side of my yard.

As heavy lower limbs were removed, you could almost see the leaning oak tree shrug itself more upright.

Men and machines attacked the overgrowth.

Pulling and tugging.

Slashing with smaller chainsaws.

Branches being fed into the chipper. Thick limbs being cut down to manageable-sized logs.

Men with saw blades at the end of long poles were hacking away at the resisting vines and weeds that had intermingled with the planted shrubs.

In some cases, it was a tug of war.

The battle was being won as the chipper kept humming and multiple chainsaws roared.

Men on the ground maneuvered the heavy branches to others who cut and made them smaller.

Wheelbarrows were  filled with loads of short, thick logs and trundled to the back of a truck to be hauled away.

The yard was beginning to take shape. Reclaiming it.

Earlier, using my new small electric chainsaw,  I had cut down three clusters of smaller trees but the stumps still stuck up.

A stump grinder was included in the planning and its diamond-tipped blades chewed the roots down to below grade.

Would have taken me days and an aching back to dig those out.

Let the man with the specialized tool do the job.

The small tall trees I had removed had grown up into the electric and cable wires coming to my house. They had to go.

I made sure that my saw and I never got close to the dangerous wires.

Good to see the clear space around them as we come into a season* when high winds are not out of the question.

I had taken out other trees and bushes that were growing in front of the bedroom my mom had used.

She had said she liked them - despite the bees that swarmed each year when the white flowers bloomed.

Mom, who was in her 90s, said she didn't want anyone peeking into her window.

I think she would have been impressed with the job we did on the yard.

It was neat, more open and less danger of limbs falling and banging against the house.

(Click on the photos for more details.)

Sonny and his crew came to my job on Friday, the 4th of July.

He said they had finished one in Ravenel before mine and were on their way to another one or two.

He already had the cherry-picker handy and if stumps needed to be removed, he had that ready as well.

His convoy of trucks lumbered away after two men with leaf-blowers had tidied up the sawdust and leaves that littered the yard.

I'm sure the squirrels will be disappointed with the changes we made.

They especially love my pecan tree.

 * Locally, we don't talk much about Hurricane Hugo which roared ashore in 1989.

It comes up every year when the "H" Season begins but  nothing to match it has happened here since.

My folks rode out the storm in this house but lost 9 pine trees.

The photo shows a rather large fallen tree in 1989, being cut into manageable pieces to be hauled away.

Note the small palmetto tree to the left and the
young magnolia on the right.

That same section of the yard shows up today in my view of that corner from the front porch.

Both trees have come a long way in 25 years.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

Boston Central Library...and more

I had heard about the Boston Central Library located downtown, across from Copley Square.

BPL has 26 sites around the city area.

First I noticed there were no lions out front, guarding the entrance.

A few steps inside, I saw the Library Cats, posed and poised at the top of the stairs in back-lighted serenity.

What a beautiful scene.

Arriving late in the day, I knew it closed at 5 pm so I hurried around the place.

Wanted to visit each floor and carry away vivid memories of this impressive  BPL flagship.
The Main Reading room was huge.

The towering ceiling, the rows and rows of green-shaded lamps at all the tables.

And comfortable chairs that encourage lengthy marathon reading sessions.

The Central library has 64 computers for use by the public.

It also is a wireless hotspot for myriad cellphones, tablets and laptops.

Oh yeah, and plenty of printed books.
So, despite the lack of "traditional" lions out front, it was an excellent stop on my return tour of Boston.

Apparently  the 44th annual Gay Pride Parade and Festival was set for the next weekend

That would help explain why so many flags and banners in support of the LGBT community were visible flying proudly all over town.

As the link says, the parade included 25,000 marchers in 200 different groups.

The Massachusetts Governor and the Boston Mayor led the parade.
Just half a block off the famed Freedom Trail in Boston, close to Faneuil Hall, is the New England Holocaust Memorial.

Strong. Very moving.

The six glass towers represent the six death camps.

As you walk a path through the towers, you see numbers etched in white on the tinted glass, identifying numbers that had been assigned to victims.

The link gives more precise directions and names the four streets that form a square around it.

 Walking along the Freedom Trail, the self-guide tour through American history, you pass many delightful sights.

I try to compose with a contrast of the very old and the new.

In this particular picture, I maneuvered around for the best possible angle.

Naturally I had to step in the way of traffic a few times but I was careful and waited until there was a break in the flow.

Despite all my efforts though, a tri-color traffic light was impossible to exclude.

If I adjusted for it, I picked up signs and other visual interruptions.

 Even a person from Boston now probably would not see where it "really was" before I Photoshopped it out of the way.

By the Visitors Center on the Commons, I overheard a tour guide say there were four competing companies with narrated walking tours.

Hmmmm. On my smartphone, I could trace the Trail map and read the salient historic points all along "The Trail."

I spotted this tour guide resting on a bench, looking at HIS cellphone.

Maybe he was sizing up the competition? On "ye olde smartphone."

Or playing "Angry Birds."

I did not stop and ask him.

Later, over in Cambridge, I paused at the entrance to Harvard.

Across the street, there was another competition going.

Chess battles.

Multiple tables, timers, seating and lots of standing room for onlookers.

I suspect money passed hands as winners "beat the clock" and won.

Now, if it had been checkers...I still would have lost.

These were serious players.

Walking up a steep hill on the "Trail"on the way to Bunker Hill,  I noticed the "skinny house" at 44 Hull Street.

Actually I had read about it but didn't spot it at first.

Knowing the street number helped me locate Boston's "narrowest house."

It really did look like an addition but then I spotted the "front door" on the left side of the 4-story home.

The link will give you "the rest of the story" of the house built in 1862.

Yes, it was constructed by a noted shipbuilder and measures 10.4 feet at its widest - on the outside.

Inside, it's 9 and a half feet from wall to wall.

In ship talk, that would be "the beam."
The nearby Leonard P. Zakim bridge,
known locally as the Bunker Hill Bridge. is a very visible product of the Big Dig.

That gigantic  project drastically improved traffic flow, reduced congestion and  reunited downtown Boston with the waterfront.

The link quotes many engineering studies that went into the design of the distinctive two pylon cable-stayed structure.

It links downtown with the "Tip" O'Neill Tunnel, scooting traffic in and out.

No studies factored in my using a fisheye lens effect to bend and warp the bridge image into all sorts of impossible
angles and curves..

Looks like a a giant wishbone. Make a wish?

I did see a marketing principle at a tavern dating back to the 1700s.

The large pull on the draft no doubt presented a truism for bars and selling beer and ales.

I'm just a bit disappointed it was not being used to pour a Samuel Adams Seasonal.

Local brewer. And Patriot.

(Click on the photos for more details.)

So, my stay in Beantown involved history, engineering, monuments, libraries, chess, gay pride, shipbuilding and selling more beer.

Did I mention I love lobster rolls?

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Entertainment...New York City Style!

Entertainment means different things to different people.

I am a big "live music" fan and like to seek out quality sounds in a great acoustic venue.

During my recent short visit to New York, I had an array of sights and sounds so here's a sampler.

Think about these as you plan your next trip to "The City That Never Sleeps."

This was  Arturo's in the Village,a neighborhood pizza place - with a live Jazz trio - just a short subway ride from my lower Manhattan hotel.
But, the ultimate sound, the best acoustics EVER, in a large venue would have to be Radio City Music Hall.

I still recall sitting there back in my high school days, goose-bumpley enthralled by the building sounds of Ravel's Bolero. Wow.

Those hidden entrances that are spaced along each side had more musicians appear as the sound continued to rise.

Of course, back then in the 1950s, the Music Hall was only 24 years old.

Opened in 1932, it was built to offer a way for Depression people to enjoy some uplifting joy and music.

Vaudeville acts, live bands and a movie would fill the a reasonable price.

I had no idea that it could hold 5,000 people and was filled night after night.

On a tour, the guide seated us high in the 3rd balcony and we could hear the footsteps of a man who walked across the stage. Fantastic acoustics engineered and built by design. And, not a bad seat in the house!

Right around the corner is Broadway and the famed Times Square, from 42nd to 45th streets.

Back in the 1950s, I don't think I was allowed to make a stop here.

Not the sort of place a teenager from South Carolina would be expected to visit.

It has REALLY changed since then and is quite a visual light show - even during the day.

Later I would see it all bright and shiny lighted up at night as I left a Broadway show. Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Neil Patrick Harris had blasted it outta the park with an instant Broadway hit.

This was on top of his great long television run on the hugely popular "How I Met Your Mother" series that recently came to an end.

Not bad for the former very, very young Doogie Howser, M.D. 

I had just exited the early taping of the Late Show with David Letterman at the Ed Sullivan Theater - about 14 blocks away - and managed to snap a few daytime shots as I hurried up Broadway.

The crowd was still milling around outside so I knew I had made it in time.

Needless to say, this was another situation where cameras were not allowed.

With the proliferation of photos taken with cell phones, they were not popular either with the stern ushers who reminded us of the No Photos policy.

I obeyed and later found this picture online from the Emmys show a few weeks ago.

I can attest that it's the same outfit he wore onstage the night I sat in the 5th row.

Toward the end of the 97-minute blockbuster show, a man with a cellphone camera was quietly escorted out of the theater by two ushers.

He should have waited and taped a rerun of the Emmys where NPH won his acting award.

I did and therefore, was able to stay until the end.

Spoiler alert: his costume was more brief by that time.

Another entertaining feature of my New York visit was seeing the Prius painted as NY police cars.

Nothing against the compact fuel-efficient import, but I'm thinking a squad car should be bigger and badder. High speed chase cruisers.

The classic, big, Ford Crown Vic.

Oh, then I looked closer and saw these smaller vehicles were with the Traffic Division. Never mind.

(Click on the photos for more details.)

Instead of speeding fast, a Prius could hang behind until the bad guy stopped for gas.

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